Behavioural targeting has always been a hot topic as marketers constantly strive to understand exactly who’s interested in their product and exactly when they’re ready to buy.

Innovations in technology and onsite analytics allow marketers to tailor their online ads based on consumers’ behaviour. However, critics of behavioral advertising believe it is invasive and unethical and can become quite worrying for consumers who believe advertisers have their personal data.

However, if privacy issues can be addressed correctly, targeting provides benefits for consumers, advertisers, and publishers.

According to the Office of Fair Trading, revenue from online behavioral advertising is currently between £64m and £95m, and it looks to rise significantly in the future. However, as consumer information is collected through 'cookie' files, it is a topic of much debate and regulatory conversation.

I would like to take a minute to break it down a little, simplify it, and highlight the benefits to all: 

Marketers benefit from knowing the buying propensity of each consumer and being able to retarget based on:

• Pages visited.
• Time spent on site.
• Recent visits.
• Frequency of visits.
• Products purchased/preference.

Through segmenting interest into groups based on information gathered from activity and search data over a specific time frame (recent = 30-45 days), behavioural targeting offers a great way of qualifying interest and ensuring relevant ad placement, and some say it can increase conversion rates by up to 500%.

If a consumer is interested in cars , then you will be more inclined to click on an advert that offers you something about cars than on one promising you discounted tickets for the theatre. Surely the consumer would want to see this?

Behavioral targeting can deliver as many impressions as possible directly to the advertisers target audience, thereby reducing campaign wastage. It can also help build brand awareness and allow more relevant ‘one to one’ messaging and engagement

For the publisher, behavioural advertising allows them to offer an enhanced offering that can provide their advertisers with far greater ROI, while the consumer benefits since the advertising is more relevant to their interests and need with advertising served via anonymous cookie-based and not personal data. 

Key to sector growth

Recently, Jim Sterne wrote a great article about personalisation v privacy which shows how useful targeted advertising can be to consumers. The key to future success of behavioural advertising really starts with the consumer. Marketers and advertisers need to ensure;

  • The consumer feels comfortable and is offered an opt-out. Advertisers need to ensure consumers are educated on all aspects of cookie tracking and privacy settings and that all advertisers follow good practice guidelines. 
  • The consumer also needs to see the benefit of relevant advertising based on their interests and needs, and that advertising is purely served via anonymous cookie-based, rather than personal, data.

Given the media hype and threat of regulation, advertisers are now beginning to engage more with consumers. The reality is that if advertising didn’t exist, many websites would not exist. Advertisers ask: is that good for the consumer? 

Many advertisers are testing new systems that enable consumers to opt out of targeting advertising. For example -The New York Times reported that Power I is designed to make targeted advertising more transparent and allows consumers to see more information about the ad they have been served. It tells the consumer why they have being targeted and the data used. It then gives consumers an option to opt out of future ads(note - from that advertiser only).

Don’t believe all the media hype, if privacy concerns are addressed correctly and the consumer can see the benefit of relevant advertising then this market is set to soar.


Published 30 July, 2010 by Andy Betts

Andy Betts is a digital marketing strategist working with agencies and direct advertisers. He blogs here, and can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn

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Comments (7)

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Rob Weatherhead

I dont believe the problem is with holding user behaviour data in cookies, it is the way it is used by the publishers and advertisers.  If you are simply displaying more relevant adverts to the user in a non intrusive way, then this should not be seen as any more of a breach of privacy than print advertisers targeting their ads at a particular demographic.  But if you are going to use that information to say "hey, we saw you did this, then you did that, why not click here" and display the message in a pop up or overlay, thus disrupting the user experience, then people are going to be concerned.

As you point out, an opt out system would only work for 1 website (or group of websites) unless somebody comes up with a system for universal opt out (business idea??) and in reality nobody want to block all cookies as some of them are useful.

I think the best route forward is for publishers and advertisers to decide on how cookies should be used and ensure advertising is non intrusive and as beneficial for the user as possible.

almost 8 years ago


Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

Good points Rob. You are right that publishers and advertisers need to decide on how cookies should be used. It all boils down to consumer perception of how their data is used. I think it is in their interest if data is used correctly. However - That's the challenge - Changing that perception.

Self regulation is a way forward (look at the IAB guidelines for example)

almost 8 years ago


Internet Marketing Dubai

Agreed with you Rob. Even you are targeting based on Behavior, But if your advertisement annoy the people, it is no use. Beauty of Internet Marketing is in Non-Intrusive Advertisement.

I love Google, as their Search PPC as well their Personalized Searc approach really help advertisers to target customers in better way without annoying them.

Popup or other intrusive advertisement are just used by spammers, it has nothing to do with serious advertisement.

almost 8 years ago



I try to speak with more and more consumers/customers on a regular basis and get their feedback on this topic. Since I'm a concerned internet marketer who is also a consumer advocate (happy customers, right?), the sentiment I get from consumers is that they'd prefer to have NO ADS at all. Sure, a more relevant ad is nice, but bombardment with ads can certainly alienate website visitors. With behavioral targeting, I think we as marketers need to tread lightly, or we could end up with some seriously pissed off customers (or ex-customers).

almost 8 years ago


Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

Talking to the consumer is the correct start point. I am not too sure of the concept of Internet Marketing if there were NO ADs at all. I do get your point on treading lightly. Another way to think about it is - most consumers get served irrelevant, annoying pop ups and intrusive ads. I would much rather have the option to be served relevant ads that are of interest to me specifically and (what the industry needs to address) to have the option to opt out if I want. That could be the difference between happy customers and ex customers.

almost 8 years ago



The main point is that the publishers and advertisers to decide how work

can be easily and ensure for the user

almost 8 years ago


Trevor Mallinson

Having been on the receiving end of behavioural advertising, I can confirm it is not an "Enhanced Browsing Experience" nor it it remotely useful.

I have been served ads relating to things I have bought and not what I am looking for.
If, by chance, something is presented to me that coincides with my taste, I have yet to find it being presented at a competitive price or by an organisation I would be prepared to do business.

Thinking further, about what really goes on in colecting data to drive BA, leads to some quite nasty realisations.

I should explain that I often find it illuminating to translate activities "on the web" into a real world analogue. - as an aside, one would have, in less enlightened times, given "young Timmy" a clip round the ear if he'd been trying to get your attention whilst you were reading your paper, by leaping up and down,. waving furiously at you.

Yet now, we are expected to put up with animated adverts fleaping up and down, waving furiously at one, in the oinline world as we try to read content in online magazines.

I can't give Timmy the ad man a clip round the ear, but I can use AdBlock Plus.

But I digress.

Consider, for a moment, your trip to the shops on Saturday. You arrive in townand become aware that the guy who was sitting behind you on the bus is behind you as you go into Laura Ashley.

As you look around, you are aware of him, looking over your shoulder, scribbling ina notebook. You look at some furnishing fabric and, a moment later, the guy waves a swatch of samples at you.

You leave the store and wander into Debenhams.

As you go through, the guy is there too. He watches you and dances ahead, rearranging the adverts and positioning merchandise.

You wouldn't mind, but that stuff is what you looked at last week. As you watch the guy, you see him pasing some of his notes to another chap, getting what looks like a wad of cash in return.

You leave and decide on a quick and dirty burger. Sure enough the guy appears at the table side, turning the menu card around and pointing to the healthy salads.

You decide you've had enough and head for the bus station but - here's that guy again, checking what store windows you are looking in.

You rush home, hopefully leaving him far behind.

Monday morning arrives, and with it the post.

You're out early for work and you see postie, handing you mail to this same guy who was stalking you round town. You watch incredulously as the guy opens your mail, scans the contents and sellotapes the envelopes shut, then selects a sheaf of flyers to fold into the Radio Times, which postie was on the point of delivering.

Now. would you expect

a) the guy to be complemented on hid thoughtful action, providing you with an enhanced lifestyle experience.

b) to get arrested

c) to need extensive dental treatment in the very near future

(you may select more than one)

In my case, I would hope for b) but would probably end up at c) (and enjoy it).

Behavioural advertising is just like that.

Now convince me it is acceptable and desirable

about 6 years ago

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